World Bulletin / News Desk
United States President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that the U.S. will donate two more ships to the Philippines for use in securing its waters.
One of the ships would help map its territorial waters while the other would be for long-endurance patrols, Obama said.
"We have a treaty obligation, an ironclad commitment, to the defence of our ally the Philippines, who can count on the United States," Obama was quoted by GMA News as saying after touring the Philippines Navy's lead ship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar.
The frigate Del Pilar belonged to the U.S. Coast Guard before it was donated to the Philippines in 2011.
Obama -- in the country for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' Meeting -- described the alliance between the two countries as "unbreakable".
"We have a shared commitment. The U.S. commits to the security of the region," he said.
The comments come amid allegations that China has been building on islands in the disputed South China Sea. China claims the whole of the sea, asserting its historical claim over the area through the so-called nine-dash line, while the Philippines claims parts, which it calls the West Philippine Sea.
Other claimants include Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei.
The White House said in a statement Tuesday that the U.S. will commit $119 million to support the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia this financial year, with another $140 million earmarked for the following 12 months.
"We are increasing the maritime security capacity of our allies and partners to respond to threats in waters off their coasts and to provide maritime security more broadly across the region," it said.
Obama's visit is his second to the Philippines, following a two-day state trip to Manila in 2014 as part of a four-nation Asia tour.
On his previous trip, the U.S. and the Philippines discussed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a 10-year pact allowing the U.S. military to set up camps inside major military bases of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as well as storing weapons and materials there.
Philstar.com quoted U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg as saying that Obama and Aquino will tackle the EDCA in a bilateral meeting Wednesday.
Around an hour after Obama arrived Tuesday, he was joined for the summit by China's President Xi Jinping.
The U.S. has said it does not take sides in the South China Sea dispute, but stresses that it will protect freedom of navigation in the high seas.
Tensions recently increased with China, however, after a U.S. warship sailed within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) -- the extent of territorial waters -- of the China claimed Spratly Islands.
China strongly opposed the move, accusing the U.S. of "illegally entering Nansha Islands [Spratly Islands] territory", and sent two of its ships to patrol the area supported by fighter jets.
In 2013, Manila lodged a case with the United Nations challenging the legality of Beijing’s assertion that its ownership of the Sea is “indisputable” and “historical”, which an international tribunal in The Hague finally agreed last month to hear.